She was just wrapping up her instruction when there was a knock on her classroom door. Ashley Leone walked toward the door as she told her class to open a worksheet on their iPads. She opened the door to find Cathy Miller, one of their daily subs outside her door.
“Mr. Hackett needs you in the office,” the sub said, “so they asked me to come up and cover your class.”
“Oh, okay,” Ashley replied. A myriad of questions sprang to the forefront of her mind revolving around why she was being pulled, but she forced herself to focus on practical considerations. “Well, they are working on a worksheet. When they are done, go over it and address any questions. Do you know how long I’ll be?”
“It may be a while,” the sub said. Ashley thought she saw sadness or worry in the lady’s eyes and her heart tightened.
“Well, if I am not back in time for the next period, my lesson plans are on my desk.” The sub nodded. Ashley walked with her back into the room and addressed her students, “The office needs me for a little. Mrs. Miller will be here to work with you and answer your questions. If you have any problems or questions she can’t answer, email me, or save them somewhere for tomorrow.”
With a nod to the class and another to the sub, she walked out the door and down the hall and the questions reasserted themselves. In 17 years of teaching she could only think of one time she had been called out of class unexpectedly and that had been one of the worst times in her career.
Before she could travel too far down that lane, her hand touched the handle to the principal's office. She opened the door and immediately locked eyes with Jill, Mr. Hackett’s secretary. Her stomach clenched when she was not greeted with Jill’s typically cordial smile.
“Good morning, Jill. I heard . . .” she began before being interrupted by two men who emerged from her principal’s office.
“Come with us,” two burly men in gray suits said, grabbing her by the arm and handcuffing her. “You know what you did.”
“But I don’t,” she protested, as the men escorted her toward the front entrance. Part of her wanted to pull away, to fight them. They couldn’t do this. She hadn’t done anything! But she knew she would have told her students not to make the situation worse, to trust the system. And she wanted to get out of the building before any of her students could witness this spectacle. She hadn’t done anything wrong, so this nightmare would be over as soon as she answered their questions and cleared up whatever misconceptions they had.
In an ominous silence, they placed her in the back of an unmarked car.
“We have her,” the passenger radioed as the driver pulled out of the spot.
“Where are we going?” Ashley asked.
“The police station.”
“What is it I am accused of?”
“You have not been accused of anything.”
“But you said, ‘You know what you did.’ What does that mean?”
“You will find out at the station.”
Her mind whirled. What could they think she had done? She could really only think of one thing, but it wasn't true. She wasn’t like Erin. But the last time she had spoken to a police officer had been when Erin’s relationship with a student had been discovered. She had told that officer it wasn’t possible, that Erin was innocent.
Then Erin had confessed.
But she, Ashley, had never done anything like that and never would. And she was so careful to maintain professional distance. Even though she had been inspired to teach by movies like Dangerous Minds, movies about teachers who went above and beyond to help their students, she had never done the things those teachers had done to help their students after hours because it wasn’t safe. You couldn't be alone with a student. It broke her heart every time she drove past a student walking home in the rain, but she knew if she wanted to be able to help them in the classroom, she had to leave it at that. Erin had done things like that and she had thought Erin foolish, but brave. She had been so wrong.
Did they treat Erin like this? Ashley didn’t think so. She hadn’t even gone to jail, just put under house arrest. So did they think she had done something worse? Ashley tried to think of what they could think she had done wrong. She thought and thought, but there was nothing. The worst thing she did was speed. She hadn’t even cursed in 15 years since she had slipped once in the classroom and deemed it necessary to eradicate those words from her vocabulary to prevent a recurrence.
Was she connected to anyone who might be involved in something illegal? She didn’t think so, but then again, she hadn’t been suspicious of Erin either. Her cousin was a little anti-establishment, but aside from blood, little connected her to him. And there were always mafia jokes about her last name. Leone - must be mobbed up. But she had been curious and had tried to see if anyone in her husband's family had ever been connected and the only person she had discovered who could have been was very distant and even then, he looked less like a member and more like a business that had paid for protection.
The car pulled into the police station. The officers got out and opened her door. Somehow they seemed kinder now. But maybe she was just seeing what she wanted to see. They walked into the station where another officer met them.
“Mrs. Leone, I am Officer Green, the custody sergeant. Please come with me.”
Ashley followed the officer into another room, but she hardly knew what they were doing. Her mind kept whirling, but the more possibilities she came up with, the less any seemed possible. This whole situation was ridiculous. The sergeant had just taken her into what she assumed was an interrogation room when she realized she needed to call a lawyer. It went against all of her instincts - she hadn’t done anything so she just wanted to work it out and move on, but she couldn’t even guess at what they were thinking or how they had gotten there, so she needed to be careful. But she didn’t even know who to call. She’d have to call her husband. He could find someone.
“I think I need to find a lawyer. When can I call my husband?”
“He will be here in a minute,” the sergeant replied, closing the door behind her as she left.
Ashley’s mind couldn’t process that statement for a minute. He was here? Or would be? So he was involved in whatever they thought she had done? Could he have done something? No, she wasn’t going to go there. That would be disloyal. She would not be that person. And then her brain caught up with her. If they thought he had done something, they wouldn’t let her talk with him, right? At least that was how it went on Law & Order. You don’t want suspects to have a chance to get their stories straight. So. . .
Before she could get any farther, the door opened and her husband entered.
“Nick!” She rushed to him. “What is going on?”
Her husband gave her a hug and then gestured for her to sit.
“Ash, I am sorry you need to find this out this way.” He paused for a moment and Ashley recognized the face he made when he was trying to figure out the best way to explain something to her. “I work for the FBI.”
“What? No, you don’t. If you did, why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to, but you know you don’t have a poker face. What would you have told people when they asked about me?”
“I don’t know - I -” She had so many questions, but one flashed to the forefront. “Why are we here? Why are you telling me this here? Why was I taken into custody at school, in the middle of the day, in front of my boss?”
A look of guilt flashed over his face. “I’m, sorry. There has been a threat. I needed to make sure you were safe so my coworkers were sent to pick you up, but we couldn’t let anyone know what was really going on. If we can work this out, my boss will patch things up with yours. If not. . . “ he trailed off.
“If we can work what out?” Ashley demanded.
“I can’t tell you that. It is better if you remain ignorant of the situation. Just stay here and try to relax. I can ask the sergeant to get you coffee or anything else you need.”
“I don’t need coffee, I need to know what is going on!”
“I can’t tell you that. And I am so sorry, but I need to go. I’ll come check on you as soon as I can.”
“Nick!” Ashley protested, but Nick simply turned and tried to smile at her as he left the room.
Her first thought when she was alone in the room was the irony of her situation - as a teacher she devoted herself to the acquisition of knowledge, but in her own life, she was entangled in ignorance.